BTN.com staff, April 3, 2014
Today marks the 25th anniversary of Michigan's 1989 NCAA men's basketball title. It was on April 3, 1989, that Rumeal Robinson hit those two memorable free throws to help Michigan outlast Seton Hall, 80-79, in overtime of the NCAA final. It was an amazing run for the Wolverines, who claimed their first crown despite having "Michigan Man" Steve Fisher take over as head coach days before the tourney following Bill Freider's decision to accept the Arizona State post.
Twenty-five years later, it's time to celebrate the silver anniversary of the 1989 Michigan title.
Remember this SI cover, Michigan fans? Of course you do.
Really, they shouldn?t have been underdogs.
Technically speaking, they weren?t, anyway. The Wolverines returned six of their seven top scorers from 1987-88, when they won 26 games, and had spent the entire season ranked in the top 25. Five of their players would go on to become NBA draft picks.
But when Robinson knocked down those two free throws to seal the championship against Seton Hall, the Wolverines completed a run to the top that was tough for anyone to call probable.
The 80-79 overtime win spurred on by forward Glen Rice?s 31 points and 11 rebounds and Robinson?s 21 and 11 assists, completed an unprecedented feat: Michigan had won the championship after switching head coaches days before the tournament.
Word had leaked three days prior to Michigan?s first game that head coach Bill Frieder verbally agreed to take the Arizona State post after the season, drawing the ire of athletic director/football coach Bo Schembechler, who fired Frieder and appointed assistant coach Steve Fisher to helm the Wolverines in the postseason.
With a 24-6 record entering the tournament and finishing third in a stacked Big Ten, the Wolverines had earned a No. 3 seed. The veteran group stood behind Fisher, who would lean on the sensational Rice. The deadly scorer had recently broken the Big Ten career points record, and wasn?t going out without a bang.
Two close calls-comeback wins over No. 14-seed Xavier and No. 6-seed South Alabama (behind 23 and 36 points from Rice, respectively) sent Michigan to the Sweet Sixteen, where the second-seeded Tar Heels, who knocked Michigan out two years in a row, stood in its way. Thirty-four more points from Rice, and 17 points and 13 assists from Robinson took care of that, 92-87.
With Rice scoring at a ridiculous clip, and Robinson and a supporting cast including Terry Mills, Loy Vaught and Sean Higgins firing on all cylinders, Michigan was rolling. That roll blew them past Virginia in the Elite Eight, 102-65. The Wolverines headed to Seattle to face Big Ten rival and No. 1 seed Illinois.
The ?Flying Illini? had knocked off Michigan twice already. Led by future NBA stars Nick Anderson and Kendall Gill, Illinois had amassed an impressive 31-4 record. A game that featured 33 lead changes, seven ties, 28 points from Rice and 29 from Illinois captain Kenny Battle, came down to the wire.
With the game tied at 81, Michigan?s Mills missed a jumper with four seconds left-and Higgins found the rebound and drained a six-footer for the lead. After an Illinois timeout, it was Rice again playing hero-this time with a game-preserving steal.
So, when Robinson, a 67-percent career free-throw shooter, stepped to the line against Seton Hall two days later, the script was almost too good to be true. Robinson had missed two of them in the same situation earlier in the season against Wisconsin. This time, he calmly sank both, and the Wolverines were national champions.
Rice, predictably, was named Most Outstanding Player, and led the team in scoring every game throughout the run, finishing with a NCAA record 184 points, 75 field goals and 27 three-pointers in six tournament games.
Although Rice shone the brightest, the season was a true team effort. Michigan shot a ridiculous team clip of 56.6 percent from the field, leading the NCAA and setting a conference record. They also set Big Ten records for single-season points (3393), field goals made (1325), and assists (745). Fisher was promoted to head coach after the season, having earned the job and more.
While memories of brash basketball and baggy shorts characterize the common perception of Michigan hoops, it?s the 1989 team that brought home the hardware. It?s their banner that hangs in Crisler Center, and their feat John Beilein?s group will hope to replicate one day.
A team on a mission to ?shock the world? did just that.
Jeremy Woo is a special contributor to BTN.com.